Over the years I have gone through times of serious spiritual struggle in which I have been desperate and needy. I have often considered these times of struggle by using comparisons.
For example, the spiritual struggle has seemed like a physical illness in which I was so weak and so far from health that it seemed I would need thousands of doses of medicine before I could reach a level of even reasonable health. At those times, I doubted I could ever be healthy again.
I have also compared the struggle to a construction project in which I couldn't make any progress in forming the building because I couldn't even get a foundation that wouldn't crumble and fall apart. It seemed that I would never be able to get even a simple building framed and under roof.
A third comparison is that of a lengthy journey which I could not undertake because I was stuck in quicksand. It seemed impossible to extricate myself from the bog, let alone conquer the rugged terrain that stretched beyond.
In these struggles I knew I needed God's help through the Bible, but my need seemed so immense and my attempts to find that help pitiful and insufficient. It seemed total disaster would come before I could ever take enough doses of medicine, add enough bricks, or take enough steps to get from my current state to a reasonable level of health, development, or progress.
In spite of those pessimistic evaluations, I can now see that God did in fact lift me from those helpless situations. In recent weeks I have realized anew that He has strengthened me. I am more grounded in the Word, more knowledgeable about the specific help I need for particular challenges, and more inclined to turn quickly to God for help. Beyond increased personal maturity, I am amazed at the multiple opportunities God has given me to minister His truth to others - opportunities that I would not have imagined possible.
This growth is certainly not because of me. "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (I Corinthians 15:10). "For it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure" (Philippians 2:13). I am not capable of making myself what I ought to be or of changing myself as I need to change. That is God's work.
It should not be surprising that God does the work. His intent is to transform me. "He who began a good work in you will perfect it" (Philippians 1:6). "But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the LORD, are being transformed into the same image" (II Corinthians 3:18). "After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace . . . will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you" (I Peter 5:10).
Of course, I still struggle, sometimes intensely. However, by God's grace I am not so lost, helpless, and hopeless as I have been at times in the past. As I remember to look to Him, He gives me help from His Word and through His Spirit.
I am very aware that God's work is not finished. God continues to give me medicine, build His structure, and guide me on the journey. I see that my spiritual health has improved, my building is going up, and my path has covered many miles. I am thankful for this progress, but by no means would I consider myself a mighty athlete, a magnificent skyscraper, or a world traveler.
Though not achieved yet, those levels are possible as God continues to do the work that He desires in me. In fact, He wants me to be just like His own Son. "Until we all attain to . . . a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ" (Ephesians 4:13). "We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is" (I John 3:2).
I intend for this personal testimony to have two purposes. First, I want to express thanks to God and give Him glory for His gracious and incredible work in my heart. Second, I want to encourage anyone who is discouraged at his or her own spiritual condition. What God is doing for me, He has done for many other Christians, and He can do for you. If you see poor health, a disastrous building, or an impossible journey, and if your Christian growth seems helpless, take hope. Keep taking the medicine, keep adding bricks, and continue taking deliberate steps forward - no matter how slow or small the progress seems. Most often the change is gradual. You may not see the improvement this week, this month, or even this year, but God will do it. It may be a long time before you reach the level of the spiritual role models that you admire, but God can lead you to that level as you seek His help.
What are the doses of medicine, the construction materials, and the steps? They are not necessarily as simple as just reading a new verse or passage from the Bible each day. Rather they are steps forward in understanding and submitting to God's truth. Those instances of understanding work gradually. Every dose of medicine contributes to improved health. Every brick and board contributes to a more developed structure, and every step carries the traveler further down the path. Over time, the consistent accumulation of these will bring maturity.
"Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us" (Ephesians 3:20).